Our country is experiencing a disturbing increase in hate directed toward minority communities and individuals. Recent examples include the assault of a Jewish man in Times Square in New York City and the stabbing of two elderly Asian women while they were waiting for a bus in San Francisco.
The U.S. Justice Department cites other cases in Indiana and Michigan of more brutality toward African Americans and a jury conviction in Illinois of a man who bombed an Islamic center.
Violence toward Americans of Asian heritage is dramatically up overall during the COVID-19 pandemic; according to one study, spiking by 164% in the first quarter of 2021 in the U.S.’s 16 largest cities. And as fighting in the Middle East escalated this spring between Israel and Palestinians, so have attacks on the Jewish population in the United States. These attacks have increased significantly in the past few years.
This trend should concern all of us, no matter one’s faith, race, ethnicity or personal politics. Sadly and ominously, the recent 2020 presidential election only reinforced the deep divisions in our nation — political, racial, geographic, socio-economic.
Some members of the pro-Trump mob who attacked our capitol building and beat up police officers in Washington, D.C., earlier this year wore “MAGA: Civil War, January 6, 2021” T-shirts, carried a Confederate flag into the marbled halls of Congress, and at least one seditionist was photographed in a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt.
Political poison has entered our own state as well, pitting Utahn against Utahn. Antisemitism is evident in our capital city, where a synagogue was recently vandalized with a Nazi swastika. This symbol of hate has also been graffitied in other areas of our state.
In 2020, Utah reported more than 800 violent crimes against residents of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage. And while our state has seen progress regarding LGBTQ+ rights and equality, prejudice against these community members remains a concern, including during Pride Month.
One of us, a former longtime Utah state legislator and member of the Jewish faith, writes from personal experience. Antisemitism has come in the form of hateful comments voiced at local grocery stores and harassment in her home neighborhood.
The other one of us, who represented the U.S. State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan for seven consecutive years, has seen firsthand what uncontrolled hate and violence can do within and to communities.
If any state should have a visceral understanding of what hate can mean and the serious damage it can do to families, it is Utah. Well over a century ago, many of our pioneering ancestors were forced into the remote mountains and dry deserts of the American West, in wagons and handcarts, chased by anti-Mormon bigotry and violence. Empathy has traditionally been a strong Utah value, but it is a quality that needs to be practiced to be enduring, not just preached from the pulpit.
We are more diverse than people think. Approximately 120 languages are spoken in Salt Lake County homes, with the top 10 (after English) being Spanish, Vietnamese, Tongan, Chinese, Samoan, German, Serbo-Croatian, French, Portuguese and Russian, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Our scenic, industrious, globally minded, and fast-growing Beehive State — the fastest in the nation over the past decade — has been discovered as many businesses and workers relocate here and the job market thrives. For Utah to be truly welcoming as our diversity deepens, however, each of us has a proactive role to play in elevating our public discourse and helping to protect the most vulnerable among us.
All Utahns who care enough must take a strong stand against hateful speech and actions. If you hear it, call it out. If you see it, report it. If a family member, neighbor or fellow church member peddles in this kind of poison, push back.
Write letters to the editor. Join groups fighting for civility. Pressure our all-Republican congressional delegation to be conscience-driven and solution-oriented while working for more balance and wisdom in our local politics as the critical redistricting process is debated and decided later this year.
Silence by “we the people” equals complicity. And apathy regarding hateful conduct leads to more of it, not less, including one day when it might be directed at you or your own family, if it has not already.
In the months and years ahead, we must work together to help ensure that the politics of empathy wins out over the politics of hate. This is the kind of Utah that will move us forward, together, stronger and as a more hopeful and safer place for all our state’s residents.
Patrice Arent served for 20 years in the Utah Legislature and for a decade as the co-president of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, where she still serves on the board. She also serves on many nonprofit community boards.
Kael Weston, a former U.S. State Department official, teaches at Marine Corps University, is the author of “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and was the Democratic Party’s candidate in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in 2020.